Monday, 20 November 2017

Black is the new Black

I was both excited and anxious as I arrived at Sunderland's City Centre University Halls for the November black belt grading. My sporting routine has been gradually grinding to a halt as I have packed in more and more karate lessons in the run up to the Special Dan Training and Grading session. Each club session is six quid a pop and an hour and a half of (more or less) full-on aerobic effort.  High kicking in your fifties is no balm to the elderly, I can tell you.  Ain't natural.  Thankfully, my running history has provided me with more endurance than the average joe public, and by god, I needed it.
It was a crisp morning. Firstly we had an hour and a half's training with two of the top Karate practitioners in the Country. Then there was a 2 hour wait before the afternoon grading began. I did my best to avoid contact and aimless small talk and speculation by walking to Greggs for a cuppa and then reclining as best I could on a hard chair with my eyes closed in the noisy and crowded sports centre. The air of expectation and mild fear was palpable.  It was like being at the dentists or sweating outside the headmasters office in the 70's.  
Having written out a cheque for £70, I was incentivised to do as well as possible. A crowd of around 50 candidates trooped into the small hall and I was in the second last group of 4 to go through the syllabus.  After 2 hours of waiting and watching others, I prayed to anyone that was listening that I'd manage to keep it all together.
My name was called. I stepped up and I set off to impress, but mainly to try and avoid making  stupid mistakes, the same ones that had littered my training.  After 15 minutes of full on effort, I finished and went back to my corner. I dropped my sparring mitts and gum shield into my bag and, exhausted, sat hunched with a towel over my head, the sweat dripping off my nose.  However, the judges had other ideas and with only the final 3 candidates left, an odd number, I was called back to spar and fight again to make up the numbers. Much joy! I hastily grabbed my gear and lined up again for another bout of sparring. As I tried to summon the energy to fight convincingly for two minutes, I couldn't decide if I was called up again because I was good last time, or because I was  marginal and they wanted another look. No matter, it was soon over and I bowed, left the floor and sat down again, spent. 
Its not until the very end of the day that if you've convinced the panel, they ask you back up to do another different kata (a pre-determined set of moves). Out of about fifty present, there were only about 15 or 16 asked up. Thankfully I was one of them. There was still room for failure, but the kata suited me and I raced through it. The end was in sight. 
The whole class was brought to the front and the individual results and comments delivered. Success and a long tough day, but a memorable one. 
 I am having the day off today and lying on the settee with the rain outside.  Its now time to resurrect my running career, methinks. Where are those trainers?

Monday, 30 October 2017

Seasons End

She reminds me of someone famous...?
I've managed to tot up 40 miles running this week. I did the same the previous week. You also need to factor in the 3 hours of martial arts in there somewhere, so early days but goin alright. While there's no speed, there is some pavement pounding going on. It was a steady 12 miles yesterday, some of it in the woods with a small gang of oldsters from the club.

The cycling hill climb season came to an end yesterday with the Nationals being held up in Northumberland. The hill at the aptly named Hedley on the Hill attracted 240 starters, most of whom needed a good feed. There was a large vociferous crowd (at least on the second half of the course).

Full moon last night...?
I drove over and took the bike the two miles from Mickley to the start. The event was already well underway when I arrived. I walked the course and planted myself at the busiest bend, the final kick-up, and I have to say for the hour I was there, it was a hoot. I let my mind wander as I waited for each rider and thought I should have entered, but I did this course 3 years ago and it was longer and lumpier than I recall.  I didn't miss the heart rate shock and lactic acid paralysis not to mention the dry cough at the end. The stretch of road was closed so the spectators could take over the place. What a din there was at the end of the course. Pots n' pans, horns and cowbells. Great. One or two of the lads even got carried away!

There's a charity 12 mile time trial on just before Christmas. Its just a bit of fun, but I thought I might get Mrs Mac involved on the tandem. Fancy dress of course. The second hand Roberts frame I bought is away at Bob Jacksons in Leeds getting chopped down and re-sprayed and I'm still chewing over the choice of transfers. For the money they're charging, its gotta be right. A good while ago I had a frame I won at Meadowbank (back in the day) resprayed. The paint job was fine but the decals (transfers) they put on it ruined it, and I never rode the thing again. Sold it a couple of years ago.

The youngsters have been showing me up; The dark destroyer, fresh from her win at the Kielder marathon is cranking out about 100 a week and Speedy Joe is also flying at each weeks cross country' She is limiting herself to around a 70 mile week training around the parks and meanstreets of the Dear Green Place. Maybe I need to go north and have another go. My last run was at Eildon, and I struggled. I wasnt fit then and the recovery will need to be managed right. However, I noticed the Hawks are struggling for a masters team and maybe its time for a late season foray perhaps late November into some low profile affair or cross country.  Better get myself a set of spikes. After all , I have a £20 voucher sitting here. I'm fairly sure, however, I didn't win it this year...crumbs from the daughters table of plenty;  cheesey offcuts from their smorgasboard of victory!!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Tour Des Trossachs

It was a busy cycling sort of weekend. Saturday morning saw me drive the team car to the Wooler Wheel Sportive. Mrs Mac had challenged herself to the 35 mile affair, which some metric-gnome tells me is 50km. It was cool but dry and most of the 550 field were on the starting line as we arrived. Speedy Joe had agreed to chaperone her and her hybrid around the wee rolling lanes in deepest Northumberland. I said my farewells and, as I hadn't splashed out the £20 fee for the t-shirt and drinks stop and jelly babies took off without any further ado. Expensive jelly babies. I cracked on trying to catch and pass the happy sportivers and clocked up 25 miles before cutting back to the old auction mart and the car, pie and peas and a cuppa. Some time later, and I mean sometime, Mrs Mac made an appearance and managed the trip in after four and a half hours. She was tied but happy. Too much sugar from the Jelly Babies. Speedy Joe was losing the will to live. However, the sun had arrived and we sat outside and took in the rays with a slice of cake for a half hour before the trip up to Calendar.

We arrived at 5pm just to catch the town closing up. Its looking a wee bitty tired compared to the last time I was there. All cafe's and chintz. Half the shops closed for whatever. The B&B was fine and we were up in the loft. We had a quick bar meal at the Crown and then it was back to the room to crash.

Sunday was still and cool and we got to Aberfoyle by 9am. The Tour Des Trossachs has been going every year for around 60 years and has been won by the likes of Millar and Obree. I felt pretty good as I was up at 10:06 (no 6). The lad at no 4 was on a reclining bike and I thought that was pretty brave. I hit the Dukes pass after 3 minutes and it was 19 minutes before I got to the top. I was passed on the way going up. My lack of technique and swinging the bike from side to side was in total contrast to the smooth pedalling Ayr Roads lad who just sat there and ground it out. Over the top I tucked in, slapped it into the biggest gear I had and hammered down the hill trying to give chase, the roads greasy and grizzly. Rider no 9, a woman with triathlon sympathies and oozing determination and purpose passed me, but I wasn't having any of it and stayed close for 2 miles before the little rise at Brig O Turk took me to another place, an unwanted slow motion world. I was in treacle; but I recovered to pass the hinterland of Calendar and begin the last big dig up the final climb. Then at the top, it was all hands to the deck as I stuck my hand in my back pocket for something to give me speed; a handy sized, sub-atomic particle accelerator perhaps. Something that might whisk me and my particles to the finish.
I fought all the way to the line at Braeval and was exhilarated that I had managed to maintain my focus over the shortened 26 mile course. After a hot choc at McGregors café on the corner it was up to the Hall. The results were still coming in, but I was not too far away from nearly the bottom of the middle of the field. 47th out of 58 finishers and 1:18:53.
That's the racing over for the year, but I think I can improve on things and I might do a few more flattish time trials next year. Happy to get home and hit the sheets. zzzzz. 

Monday, 2 October 2017

Cleveland Wheelers Hill Climb 2017 and the 'poles

Roll up, roll up, read all about it. Man cycles up hill, is 10th last from a field of 45; claims small victory. Beats 14 year old by one second. Cause for celebration? 8mins 31secs. 35th out of 45 starters. The small victories are the precious ones. It was a much more disciplined ride yesterday at Claybank up the Jurassic scarp of the North York Moors. Off the seat for a full ride almost and just stared at the road until the end. In the rain. Like Pedro Delgado (only 30 years older).
I cannot recall if this is the 2nd time I've ridden the event or the 3rd, but I was surprised to see that the first time was 5 years ago. I didn't realise how long this sort of asinine stupidity had been going on.
Other than Sundays Tour De Trossachs (yes, a real event; a 28 mile hilly time trial that includes the Dukes Pass at Aberfoyle), I have no more two wheeled escapades planned for the year. I feel the need to dig out the trainers and get some more running done, now that the Achilles is sorted. There's a perfectly good cross country season out there.
The tadpoles are nearly gone. I've fed them and watered them most days from early June. Some (that are no size at all and look like a 'snotter' with legs) have insisted they leave the garden post hole a.k.a 'puddle' and forage around and about. I've even almost stood on a couple (or the same one). Since the sad demise of my old running partner, meg the dog, a month ago at the ripe old age of 15, we have had some cats prowling around. One has been in the house twice now, uninvited. Best keep the doors shut.
I have completed the 'Canticle for Liebowitz', a sci-fi classic and one of my dads favourite books. I have moved onto 'The Old Ways' by Robert McFarlane, a kind of travelogue. Halfway through, a steady read, not much going on, but very nice prose. Happy October!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Sunderland Hill Climb 2017

This is the face that you need to pull in order to finish 4th last in a hill climb time trial. As a vet in athletics over the last few years I have been described variously as a 'good club runner', pretty decent (or was that pretty vacant?) and 'a good hand'. My recent demise in the running scene has not gone altogether unnoticed, I think I'm glad to say. According to sources, I am still struggling with an Achilles injury. I would guess that if I pulled the trainers back on and began to wrack up the weekly miles again, I could dovetail myself into the top 5 in my category in most races, be it a fell race or a 10k. Not so with cycling. I have spread myself thin this year, with some running, the karate and now the cycling and, with the bike, at least, it shows. True, hill climbing is a particularly masochistic sort of activity, but the seasons short and I punish myself with only one or two events a year.

Weight is the key. Weight and power. Power to weight ratio and all that. If I eat less rubbish, I might get slimmer, lighter. Yesterday, working from home and still in my dressing gown at eleven in the morning, I found myself under the stairs with the lights off scoffing a Danish pastry like Billy Bunter. If I couldn't see myself eating it, I wouldn't know I had. Heart rate has also got something to do with it. As an oldie, I strongly suspect I can't get the heart rate up to what I used to and therefore fail to pump the oxygen round my veins and hearteries fast enough. Some sillyologist will no doubt tell me different.

The first of this years paingivers was the Sunderland CC two stage event at Kibblesworth near Gateshead. I set off too fast and then spent the rest of the first climb in oxygen debt and only just managed to retrieve my technique for Jack Earl, the classy cameraman ubiquitous at these events. Its worth the £10 entry fee just for the photo afterwards.  A good pose is critical when a camera is around. Its all about the ego.

I was lying 4th last out of 50 after the first stage. I comforted myself with the thought during the 2 hours break between stages that only people who think or know they're good at going up hills on a road bike enter these. I peered into my coffee at race HQ, willing the caffeine to provide some miraculous improvement in the 2nd stage, but I would have settled for being 5th last. For me, however, it seems to be a race to the bottom. If I sound depressed or despondent, don't worry. I actually find a good moan very good therapy. I would be in a category A prison for the times I 've beat myself up mentally. It's the only way to squeeze something more out of the system. The second stage was a much shorter affair on smooth tarmac for the most part. I set off steadier and simply tried to keep a rhythm going. The finish was just over the crest after half a mile and allowed riders a little respite and a sprint to the finish. As the results came back I found that I had indeed improved, but failed to move up the rankings, and left knowing that improvement is required. I was, however, sanguine about the whole horrible business, feeling a sort of perverse satisfaction that I can bury myself, compete and not be desolated about finishing well down the pecking order. Better than dressing up in sackcloth and dishing out lashings of flagellation.

As some solace I was 4th O50, but then there were only five in the field. I am looking forward to this weekends climb at Claybank near Stokesley. I used to train there when I was a teenager. I remember being sick there one Saturday morning after my first beery night as an under age drinker. Oh, fond memories. The even better news is that there is a 60 year old and a 70 year old riding in the 60 strong Cleveland Wheelers Event, so there's hope that I can improve on 4th last. In the words of Jason Kenny, "I started training again and I thought I might try a bit of a comeback. I did a couple of efforts and they weren't great results, but I felt like I did when I was 18. I felt refreshed." So here's to feeling refreshed.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Alpine Adventure

I'm not long back from a week in the Alps. I, like a cohort of other 50 something men, felt compelled to experience the grief that bike riders in Le Tour and the Dauphine Libere face. The pain comes from exotically named climbs like Le Galibier, Le Col d'izoard, Le Col De Bonette and others. These mountain passes have a mystical reputation among cyclists. There's nothing much to match them in Blighty.  I travelled with Mr M. He's not a huge cyclist but is a couple of years older than me. He also felt drawn to tick this slow burner off his bucket list. I was also keen to try on the new Gothic mash up jerseys which look great (even if I did the design myself).
We arrived at Nice, where we picked up a Clio estate after a false start with a fiat. We shoe horned the bike cases into the boot. It wasn't exactly commodious. There was barely enough room for anything more. He had booked a Focus estate, but the hire company advised that they had none. Breach of contract I would have said (or check the small print), if my French had been any better.

Nice is mega busy. Its getting a new tram down the high street just behind the promenade, and trying to find a parking space late at night was a near impossibility. At least their tram looked like it went somewhere useful. It's chaos in the town.

The next morning we took off after a coffee and croissant to Jouliers, a two hour drive into the Alps. We parked the car in the village and after a pretend steak (reconstituted mince) and sad flaccid chips washed down with tea au lait, we set off up the Bonette. This is the highest mountain pass in the French Alps at 9000ft above sea level (three times Ben Nevis, nearly). As a relative lightweight, I was soon some way ahead of my buddy and climbing steadily on smooth roads. These climbs are long steady drags with frequent zig-zags to reduce the gradient. They were formed so that you could get your horse and cart over the mountain in yon olden days, so nothing desperately steep or arduous. However, this beast went on and on; and on and on. I spent 2 solid hours going up into the sky. I noticed the air getting thinner near the top (who wants fat air anyway?). My breathing became a little more laboured. I imagined, at one point, a grey tree stump looking like a wolf. There are no houses or cafes at the top. It looks like the moon. It's deserted. It also blows a hoolie on the crest.
Promenading with the new mash up jersey at Izoard
A mile from the top, it began to get darker. A sinister heavy air arrived like a mugger. The cloud began to drop. The rain began as I crested the final bend. Within 2 or 3 minutes I was wringing as the horizontal freezing rain pelted down (or rather across). As I cowered behind an old ruin, hurriedly putting on a thin orange waterproof and scrabbling through frozen fingers to put my phone into a plastic bag, a little voice in my head was saying 'this is not good, this is not good at all'...I didn't want to be a statistic. My own personal Brexit. I had to get down off the hill, even as the cloud dropped and visibility become next to nothing. Thankfully I had lights on the bike and knew I had to get off the mountain as soon as I could. However, it took me a full hour to come down, stopping once coming out of the mist to tell Mr M to turn around and another couple of times to blow into my numb hands. Not much fun. The dutch guys in the café tabac had a chuckle as we came in, teeth chattering.
'Froid?' inquired the bar man as we order coke and hot choc. and huddled round the cups for warmth.

The next day we chose an easier ride and biked 20 miles up an old gorge near Briancon, but there's nought flat about the Alps and even this ride was testing. The next day after a glass or three of wine and another burger in the evening, we attempted Izoard. The sky was blue and as I climbed it was quite a contrast to Bonette. It took only 1:40 for the climb to the summit. The roads over there are smooth for the most part and it was a delight. I had a teary moment at the top, before manning up and rattling off a few photos. I even had the bravado to drop back down a kilometre to meet Mr M coming up. Descending was exhilarating and back into town, it was hot and sunny. We sat on the kerb and feasted on ham,brie,baguette and plum tomatoes. This was our lunch every day.

Later in the day, we drove to Les Deux Alpes, a ski resort at 6000ft. There had been snow on the peaks the night before and things were decidedly chilly. We were not far from Alpe D'Huez. I could hear the metamorphic behemoth growling down the valley as we approached our hotel. The resort was surprisingly large with more than a mile of high street, but it was truly deserted. Thankfully we found a great restaurant (Le Rustique) and spent two nights at the resort. We rode the back of Le Galibier on the Sunday and met a couple from Oregon and a bunch of lads from Cork. It was brassicks though.

The threat from Huez was regrettably enough to scare us back to Digne Les Bains, back down toward Nice the next day. We took a back road for a low intensity spin and still ended up finding Le Col de Corobin at the end. It was then onto Nice, our final day. Huez will have to be tamed on another trip. Before our late flight we managed 20 miles up and down the flat and balmy sea front. We dodged other bikies, joe public, suicide scooterists and flash cars with even flashier occupants. I welcomed the easy ride. I had developed a sore knee, maybe not surprising after 18000ft of climbing in the week.

I have a 2 stage hill climb at Gateshead tomorrow. Plenty of altitude, but I can be fairly sure there'll be no snow at least. Next time, I think I might give Huez a go, but perhaps in June.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Mash up

My Achilles is much improved tonight as I lie on the bed half watching 'Grand Designs' and waiting for something better to start. There's been little or no running for a good wee while now. The biking is coming on, though. I've ridden around 100 miles this week so far, over 4 rides. Short and prompt. 18-20mph, but no heroics. I also got the other Condor back from my errant daughter and am looking forward to a change of bike. Like all long-time bikies, I have a small stable of two wheelers, but not enough time to appreciate them all, or money to make sure they're all road-worthy. Its true, they are in various states of repair. New biking bits are pretty pricey, and I like to shop on ebay when possible, but mostly browse...its cheaper. However, on the cycling clothing front, I am prepared to make an exception. I have designed a new jersey for the Gothic cycling club. Its not the official jersey, but a leftfield 'mash up'. I think its 'the dogs' and can't wait to wear it in the soon to arrive Hill-climb season (all 8 weeks of it!). They're due on the 20th September. There are a few spares and I think there won't be a problem with demand for the surplus items. I tried to change the pdf of the design to a jpeg file so I could stick it up, but my computer skills are just above the abacus level, so you'll have to imagine it or get on the clubs Facebook page.

As I consider re-engaging the running scene, I have a mind to butcher an old pair of Nikes that were due to be thrown out. I think if I cut out a section of heel, it might reduce the chances of inflammation from the constant rubbing. Worth a try.
Its karate tomorrow and the bike later. In between , theres a curtain rail thats looking for a fix and a hedge that needs to be taken down a peg or two.   There's also the Wiggle Northern Angel Sportive passing my doorstep on Sunday and I've a mind to gatecrash it. Pick up a little company and some quality miles. We'll have to see how it pans out.